Launch: Lars D.H. Hedbor’s The Will
INTERVIEW BY DAVID CONNON
What is your elevator pitch?
Countless people strove mightily to support the cause of American independence from Britain, but failed to make it into our history books. As a novelist of the Revolution, when I encountered Isaac Melcher’s run-in with John Hancock (while I researched my own family’s history), I knew I had to write his story.
How did you become interested in the Revolutionary War?
I grew up at the scene of one of my earliest books, The Prize. The events of the Revolution were more present for me than they might have otherwise been. Boating around Carleton’s Prize, the tiny island for which my novel is named, I remember seeing the streaks of rust from what is said to be cannonballs embedded in the rocky cliffs, and that visible trace of the not-so-distant past captured my imagination.
It wasn’t until much later in my life, though, that my youthful interest in the era blossomed into a full-blown avocation. I am still often surprised by some tidbit that I hadn’t previously encountered… and that’s usually when I know that I’ve got a story that needs to be told. The American Revolution is a rare inflection point in all of human history, where a war was fought not to decide which prince would rule over a patch of dirt, but to decide how the very relationship between the governed and their government would be defined. The impact of the Revolution has extended far beyond our borders, and its principles – and shortcomings – have informed the actions of generations, in every corner of the world.
What attracted you to writing historical fiction?
Historical fiction has helped me understand the past. When I looked for novels that explored some lesser-known areas and viewpoints from the American Revolution, I found very little that satisfied me. So I sat down and started creating the books I wanted to read.
If you could go back in time and talk to the young Lars D.H. Hedbor, what advice would you give him about writing novels?
“Trust your authorial voice and write fearlessly. Your audience will appreciate your take on the world, and you will find your success as a result of being true to yourself.” Fortunately, this is roughly what I did tell myself as I was starting out. It was pretty good advice.
Do you outline your books, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I am a failed outliner; the one time I tried, the characters started speaking to me, and I was three chapters in before I realized that I had started writing a different novel. Today, I start with a solid grasp of the historical framework in which my characters find themselves, and let them do the driving. The first time one of them does something I hadn’t expected – well, that’s when I know that I have a story.
The arguments between leading characters Isaac Melcher and his wife, Catharine, rang true. What suggestions do you have for writing effective dialogue?
Know each character as well as you possibly can, and let each of them have their own voice, complete with tics and flaws. Try to incorporate body language into your dialogue. I’ll often find myself trying on the expressions that my characters might have at a particular turn in their conversation, and then describing what my own face is doing.
Did you originally set out to write numerous colony or state-specific novels about the Revolutionary War?
Yes, it was my plan from the beginning. I sketched out a series about dimly lit corners of the Revolution, books that would cast light into places overlooked by other novelists. With fourteen now written, this plan has served me very well. I have natural audiences in and around those places, particularly in the South, where the Revolution is overshadowed by later events.
How far might you geographically extend the series?
I’ve already gone well beyond the original thirteen colonies, with Maine (which was part of Massachusetts), Vermont (an independent republic during the era), as well as West Florida and Nova-Scotia (both of which were loyal British colonies). The furthest-flung story that has caught my attention is the very last battle of the American War of Independence. It took place in Cuddalore, India, months after the peace had been negotiated, but before news reached those distant shores. It may be a while before I am brave enough to try to describe the context of that conflict, though, as it is tied up in a great deal of Indian history that is not familiar to most outside audiences.
What advice would you give to historical novelists who are tempted to have their characters express a 21st-century belief or attitude?
I strive to let my characters reflect their own times. I confess that I struggle mightily against characters whose views I find personally repugnant, and those characters will often find themselves in arguments with someone else who’s expressing what can only be called a more modern sensibility.
How does your occupational background affect your writing?
My background spans a large number of disciplines, and has helped me shape the business side of being an author.
As a sales and marketing professional, I learned the essentials of electronic advertising, copywriting, graphic design, and the all-important skill of being able to stand in front of people and convince them to part with their hard-earned cash for something you have. When I needed a website, newsletter, and the other parts of the technological framework of being an author today, my experience with technology gave me the grounding I needed to build those things myself, rather than having to pay for them. And my time as a human resources accounting clerk ensured that my author business spreadsheet is full of formulae and roll-up reports that enable me to make rational, data-driven decisions about advertising and other business investments.
The work of designing and documenting unfamiliar software and technologies forced me to learn how to dig through online resources and research libraries to uncover arcana in those fields; the process of understanding the past is surprisingly very similar in some regards – although I’ve never had to read an API specification in 18th century Spanish. There, my military experience as a linguist helped me, though.
What is your next project, and how far advanced is it?
My next book, The Convention, set in Massachusetts, will be released on October 17. The Convention was born out of learning about the fate of the British army that surrendered at Saratoga, which was both unexpected and bizarre, even by the standards of the time. I next plan to write about the burning of Savannah, Georgia by the British, and the very little-known contributions of a Haitian force to try to relieve that city.
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